Friday, 22 January 2010

All the World's a Stage by William Shakespeare

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Ah Sunflower: William Blake

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go!

The Pig Roald Dahl

The Pig

In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn't read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn't puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, "By gum, I've got the answer!"
"They want my bacon slice by slice
"To sell at a tremendous price!
"They want my tender juicy chops
"To put in all the butcher's shops!
"They want my pork to make a roast
"And that's the part'll cost the most!
"They want my sausages in strings!
"They even want my chitterlings!
"The butcher's shop! The carving knife!
"That is the reason for my life!"
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grizzly bit
So let's not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
"I had a fairly powerful hunch
"That he might have me for his lunch.
"And so, because I feared the worst,
"I thought I'd better eat him first."

Roald Dahl

Qasidah by Sidi Ash-Shaghuri, translated by Al-Faqir

أنت مكر البطون كلمات: سيدي العارف بالله تعالى الشيخ عبد الرحمن الشاغوري (قدس سره)

أنت مكر البطون يا قلب آمن * تب نصوحا واستغفرن وآمن
أنت في قبضة الإله أسير * في تصاريف أصبعيه مواطن
تب تبتل إليه قبل فوات * خارجا عنك والسوى منك بائن
فعسى أن تنال منه ثباتا * فتلبي نداء داعي المآذن
إن لله في الأنام شؤونا * ذاك عبد محض وهذا مداهن
كم قرير للعين صار بعيداً * وبعيد قد صار في القرب قاطن
أيها الذاكر الحبيب ترفق * فالهوينا حرَّكت مني السواكن
وتلطف فالقلب مني هواء * وغرامي سهم وقلبيَ شادِن
كل قلب قد صار فيه رهينا * من سواه رعيا لتلك الرهائن
هات معناه بالجمال احتساءاً * وبمجلى الجلال يا صاح هادن
ذكره للفؤاد محض التهاب * لزوال الأغيار من كل كائن
إن تجلى بالذات فالكل فان * أو تجلى وصفا ففي القلب ساكن
فحمياه من مُحيَّاه تسري * في عقول قد حيرتها المحاسن
يا حبيبا لكل ذرة كون * لك تسبيحها وفيك تعاين
وكذا العاشقون فالروح منهم * هائم في الفضاء مثل الظعائن
كثر الهائمون فيك فقسمٌ * هائم ظاهراً وآخر خازن
كلهم يدَّعون فيك غراما * لكن المغرمون فيك معادن
ليس من يشرب القراح المصفى * مثل من يشرب الصديد الآسن
لا وليس الذي يؤم الثريا * مثل من في الحضيض والقبر قاطن

Words of: Al-`Arif Ash-Shaykh Abdur-Rahman Ash-Shaghouri
Translated by: Al-Faqir ila Allah, Ahmed Saad Al-Hasani

You are the trickery of the internal, o my heart so believe
Be sincere in repentance, seek forgiveness and believe

In the grip of God, you are a captive
Under His Mighty control, you live

Repent and turn to Him in devotion, before it is too late
Leave you shares and separate from any Otherness

In hope you will get, steadfastness from Him
To answer the call of the minarets’ caller

Truly, Allah has created all types of slaves
Here is a pure `abd and there is impure one,

Many a happy one, has found himself afar
And a far one has dwelled in closeness,

O beloved dhakir, be easy on me
For your gentleness has awakened my feelings (of love),

And be kind, for my heart is weak
My love is an arrow and my heart is a gazelle

Every heart has fallen a captive for Him,
Who, other than He, cares for such captives

Let’s ponder upon His Beauty, but slowly
But, o my friend, keep the Manifestation of His Majesty

For His remembrance is a purifying fire,
That removes all otherness from every being,

In showing His Entity, all are destroyed
And in showing His Attributes, He is in the heart,

For His Countenance oozes with intoxicating love
Into minds, bewildered with Beauties

O beloved of each atom in the universe,
To you is their hymns of praise and at Your Beauty is their gaze

So are the lovers, whose souls are
Wandering in the space just like travellers

Your lovers have become so many; some of them
Have manifested their love and others have kept it inside,

All of them claim they are in love with You,
Yet, those in love are of levels

Those who drink pure refined water,
Are not like those who drink boiling fetid water,

Nor those that are heading to stars,
Are like those who live in the depths of graves

This is what the tongue says,
But You know what is inside the hearts.

Museum explores 'hidden history' of Muslim science

From about 700 to 1700, many of history's finest scientists and technologists were to be found in the Muslim world.

In Christian Europe the light of scientific inquiry had largely been extinguished with the collapse of the Roman empire. But it survived, and indeed blazed brightly, elsewhere.

From Moorish Spain across North Africa to Damascus, Baghdad, Persia and all the way to India, scientists in the Muslim world were at the forefront of developments in medicine, astronomy, engineering, hydraulics, mathematics, chemistry, map-making and exploration.

A new touring exhibition, hosted by the Science Museum in London, celebrates their achievements.

There is a whole area of science that is literally just lost in translation
Dr Susan Mossman, Science Museum

Salim Al-Hassani, a former professor of engineering at Umist (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) is a moving force behind the exhibition, 1001 Inventions.

He calls it "edutainment": a series of displays devoted to different aspects of science meant to be both educational and entertaining.

"We hope to inspire the younger generation to take up a career in science and technology and to be interested in improving the quality of societies," he says.

Mix of cultures

Visitors to the exhibition will be greeted by a 20 ft high replica of a spectacular clock designed in 1206 by the inventor Al-Jazari.

It incorporates elements from many cultures, representing the different cultural and scientific traditions which combined and flowed through the Muslim world.

Children explore 1001 Inventions - picture courtesy of Justin Sutcliffe
Young people took the chance to explore the interactive exhibits

The clock's base is an elephant, representing India; inside the elephant the water-driven works of the clock derive from ancient Greece.

A Chinese dragon swings down from the top of the clock to mark the hours. At the top is a phoenix, representing ancient Egypt.

Sitting astride the elephant and inside the framework of the clock are automata, or puppets, wearing Arab turbans.

Elsewhere in the exhibition are displays devoted to water power, the spread of education (one of the world's first universities was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Fihri), Muslim architecture and its influence on the modern world and Muslim explorers and geographers.

There is a display of 10th Century surgeons' instruments, a lifesize model of a man called Abbas ibn Firnas, allegedly the first person to have flown with wings, and a model of the vast 100 yard-long junk commanded by the Muslim Chinese navigator, Zheng He.

Outside the main exhibition is a small display of exhibits drawn from the Science Museum's own collection.

They include a 10th Century alembic for distilling liquids, an astrolable for determining geographical position (and the direction of Mecca - important for Muslims uncertain which way to face when praying).

Also on display is an algebra textbook published in England in 1702, whose preface traces the development of algebra from its beginnings in India, through Persia, the Arab world and to Europe.

Dr Susan Mossman, project director at the museum, says: "There is a whole area of science that is literally just lost in translation.

"Arabic and Muslim culture particularly is a little-known story in Britain. This is a real opportunity to show that hidden story."

She says the hands-on exhibition suits the museum's style, which she describes as "heavy-duty scholarship produced in a user-friendly way and underpinned by academic research".

She adds: "We are opening people's eyes to a new area of knowledge - a cultural richness of science and technology that has perhaps been neglected in this country."

Intellectual climate

There is one big question the exhibition does not address: why, after so many centuries, did the Muslim world's scientific leadership falter? From the 16th Century onwards it was in Europe that modern science developed, and where scientific breakthroughs increasingly occurred.

Visitors got close-up to an elephant clock - picture courtesy of Justin Sutcliffe
Visitors are able to get close up to the replica of the 13th century clock

Prof Al-Hassani has his own theory, though there are others. Science flourished in the Muslim world for so long, he believes, because it was seen as expanding knowledge in the interests of society as a whole.

But in the later Middle Ages, the Muslim world came under attack from Europeans (in the Crusades) and the Mongols (who sacked Baghdad in 1258) and the Ottoman Turks overran the remnants of the Byzantine empire, setting up a formidably centralised state.

The need for defence against external enemies combined with a strong centralised government which put less value on individuals' scientific endeavour resulted in an intellectual climate in which science simply failed to flourish, he says.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Taking tea with the Tablighi Jama’at By Jenny Taylor

I realized quite suddenly that I was in love with India. It had been building up, from admittedly inauspicious beginnings. The suffocating yellow dust of Delhi, the huddled poor in filthy rags sitting by miserable little fires on every patch of waste ground; the scabby dogs and dying puppies; the way nothing ever seems to be finished off, or final; the traffic that careens crazily along pitted highways; the way no one, literally no one, can drive in a straight line, or give way. Yet in twenty years, India has changed. Once you get tuned in, it dawns on you that India is doing what I once thought beyond imagining: changing for the better. The slums are not as big as they were. People actually queue for things, rather than simply barge past you to reach their objective. There is a Metro that is clean, efficient and safe (all bags are searched politely and thoroughly, with a booth for women). Poverty may be all around, but the mental illness one might assume it would cause is no greater per head of the population than in UK, where incomes are seventy times higher. Even the cycle rickshaw wallah, a village escapee, peddles his creaking load with gusto, mopping his brow triumphantly with the rag he wears around his head, and grinning as if he had just won the marathon.

I am leaving after six weeks travelling all over the country, from the Dalai Lama’s mountain home-in-exile in the northwest, to the jungles of Orissa in the central south east. And what I will miss is the human contact, the kindness, the strangely intimate comradeship of a shared struggle, the belief everyone has in the national project. The humility of the Delhiwallah is astonishing and redemptive. He gets on with his lot, however meagre, with a strange resolve. I will miss the way catastrophe is so often averted right at the last minute, when all seemed hopeless, by people who ultimately look out for each other. I love the way, even if catastrophe does strike, people just get going again: the 126 people who were knocked off the roof of a train by overhanging branches in Andra Pradesh, will get back on their feet and back on some other train roof despite the three deaths, because that’s what you do with no money, and a need to travel. And no one has it in them to deny at least hope to the poor.

I love the all-night sound of the community’s chowkidar, the night watchman, banging his sticks and blowing his little whistle as an ‘all’s well’ that lulls me to sleep. I’ll miss the monkey man who beats his drum down our street for a penny. I’ll miss the love-starved, half-feral puppies on every garbage heap who go weak and fall into your hands if you so much as stroke them. The cows that wander past my suburban balcony, munching the shrubbery; and the pregnant cows that just get on and give birth in the middle of the traffic. I’ll even miss the cowpats on the sidewalks – because of what it represents. India hates boundaries, endings, things that belong here and not there. The sacred is co-existent with the secular and everyone is deeply religious. Sikh men chant the guru’s book together in a circle in the park in the early morning as they do their exercises. The best restaurant in town is in the same filthy alley as the biggest Muslim prayer hall. Anyone can wander into the famous Jama Masjid and photograph the up-ended bottoms of the faithful at dusk. Everything is mixed up with everything else and almost anything is possible.

History is never history in Delhi; the past lives on with the present, as William Dalrymple has so poignantly observed in City of Djinns. Nonetheless change is coming. MacDonalds sells tikka-burgers and fries, and as our populations merge, it could be Wood Green. The old mission station in Diptipur, west Orissa has a red-and-white Vodaphone mast towering over it. A self-made entrepreneur from a severely deprived village background is building a whole new futuristic suburb in Bhubaneshwar on a bank loan – and educating 7,000 tribal children on the strength of it. Someone else is developing a vaccine for salmonella.

The TJ markaz or HQ in NizamuddinBut my love affair with India became official the evening I took tea with the Tablighi Jama’at. They’re the other-worldly Islamic missionary sect whose markaz or international headquarters is in the teeming old basti or slum of Nizamuddin. The name means ‘preaching party’. They are expected to devote up to 80per cent of their lives travelling from mosque to mosque, evangelising the disciplines of reformist Islam, renewing the faithful in preparation for the life hereafter.

Totally unannounced, and with a brazenness that staggered even me, I wandered uninvited through the open gateway and asked for an interview with Maulana Saad, the great grandson of the founder Maulana Muhammad Ilyas. The alarming reputation of this sect in Britain had daunted me, and I had needed all the professional courage and personal faith I could muster to surmount the threshold. But as I had no phone number, and I was leaving Delhi within two days, it was do, or die.

The TJ is said to have 80 million followers around the world and wants to build a so-called megamosque in Newham, east London. A combination of factors has caused increasingly alarm in Britain about the Tabligh.

Medieval poverty surrounds the TJ HQ in DelhiWhat I wanted to know was why they were building a new ‘global headquarters’ – as it’s been called - in London, presumably moving from their historic location in Nizamuddin that, with its surrounding tombs of poets and warrior kings, reeks of a peculiarly Indian Islam whose Mughal heritage fascinated the British for centuries. Surely we need to understand the cultures that shaped our migrants if we are to have any meaningful relationship with them? What can a dislocated Dewsbury or Newham kind of Islam do for us, with all its huffing and puffing about equality and its justified or unjustified taint of terrorism? Would not a rekindled sense of Indian Islam’s continuity with the complex couplets of the nineteenth-century Mughal poet Ghalib who lived nearby, and the architectural achievements of Humayun whose bones lie entombed a hundred yards from the TJ markaz, help us a hundred times more? Would not an understanding of the Hindu persecutions of the Meo tribe, the first Tabligh converts, put things in a helpful new perspective?

So there I was, without a word of Urdu, with only two names on a piece of paper gleaned from Wikkipedia, and a mobile phone if I got abducted or worse. A fine-boned young man in a startling white turban waved me in and on – and I found myself standing next to a shrieking green parrot in the homely hallway of Maulana Saad’s family, being looked at silently by several females of varying shapes and sizes, all draped in shawls or burqas, who must have thought I was some kind of apparition.

But undaunted, the lovely bespectacled woman who turned out to be Mrs Saad bade me remove my shoes and come in – to what turned out to be the zenana, the women’s quarter of the large and spacious house at the side of the huge concrete complex. Muslims who want to get closer to God in prayer come here from all over the world, to be taught by the descendants of one of the leading Islamic reformers of his day. The TJ was the most enduring of the many reform movements that sprang up in response to the Hindu shuddhi or purification movement from 1875 onwards. The Arya Samaj had alarmed Muslims by its success at ‘re-converting’ nominal Muslim tribals to the so-called ‘mother religion’ of India, when numbers became a political issue after the British introduced a religion census in 1871. TJ is avowedly a-political. It longs for heaven, and anticipates victory for Allah, but all bets are on it happening in the hereafter, not now in India or Pakistan – or Newham.

'Other-wordly'?As I sat cross-legged on floor cushions, a young woman in several layers of black and a nose stud joined me, and we quizzed one another in halting English. I showed her the photos of my half-Indian nieces, assuring her their father was Muslim, even though I was not. They brought me fruit juice, almonds, cashew nuts, dates from Medina and tiny yellow sultanas. Then they brought me sweet chai with hot milk in little stainless steel teapots on a tray. After piecing together who I was, and what I wanted, Mrs Saad, with great simplicity, once more ushered me forward, this time to sit adjacent a door kept just ajar enough for me to be addressed by two bearded men, whom I knew instinctively I should not turn and look at. For as TJ Mufti Bulandshahri says: ‘Women should not come before strangers. They may give to strangers a short reply to their questions from behind a screen.’

Thus protected from certain danger, there began the most extraordinary conversation. My interlocutor told me he was none other than Professor Sana’a Suhan, the famous statistician from Aligarh University, who did his PhD at the Sorbonne in France. His answers to my questions were subtle, thoughtful and interesting. But on one thing he was absolutely adamant. He repeated it in different ways throughout the 15-minute encounter as if there were already considerable debate going on about it within the establishment. There will be no markaz in London. It will just be a mosque, and possibly a school, to cater for the number of Muslims who want the training and cannot get to Delhi. ‘Personally, for me, they should construct a mosque according to the need of that area and whosoever says this is a markaz should never tell it like this. Maulana Sa’ad does not agree with this idea so whosoever says it is a markaz you may freely tell: “I have been to Nizamuddin and there is no markaz.”

Then he says it again. ‘This is simply the idea of some enthusiastic people that this is a markaz.’

And again. ‘These are not sincere people who name it a markaz. It should be named a masjid [mosque] and that’s all.’

I put to him local concerns about cohesion and integration caused by a 12,000 capacity building and he says: ‘This is for the government in England. They have to see whether there is a need for such a big mosque.’

He said that Nizamuddin was the pioneer mosque, the ‘markaz of the whole world’ – but not a place where global strategy was worked out. It was a place of prayer, and a place to learn more about prayer.

As if to address my unspoken concerns about the hijacking of an other-worldly movement by those with a more secular agenda, he added: ‘Prayer is a pivotal worship in Islam around which the whole of Islam revolves. If a Muslim is not performing the prayer in such a way as to build the Islamic character, he may claim to be Islamic - as more than 50 per cent Muslims claim - but if they don’t perform the prayer, then they are not.’

Then, abruptly, he was gone, back to his praying. And he took my card so I could be followed up by a tabligh, a preacher, in Britain, who could give me some books.

Then the women came and enfolded me in shawls for the evening prayer and Qur’an recitation, spoken with hands cupped to heaven, and amin whispered again and again in response to the words intoned by Sa’ad himself over the loudspeakers built into the walls of the zenana. Asma said she could not do the Qur’an reading because she had her period. Neither could she pray the salaat.

Before I could go into that delicate subject, it was time to go. But not before the gentle Mrs Saad had loaded me with gifts: a huge box of dates from Medina; several large books on tabligh; and most incongruous of all, a large bottle of Cartier Déclaration eau de toilette.

We kissed one another goodbye.

And that’s when I knew my love affair with India was for real.

Jenny Taylor blogs at’at/

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Obituary: Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri: Light Upon Light in Damascus

By The Light of Jordan, Shaykh Nuh Ha Meem Keller (God Preserve him )

Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri left this world on Tuesday 8 June 2004 in Damascus after a lifetime of serving Islam and Muslims. Thousands came to his funeral on Wednesday at the mosque of Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn al- Arabi in the Salihiyya quarter. Among the people who prayed over him and buried him were those who knew him as a father, friend, religious scholar, teacher, mystical poet and vocalist, and Sufi sheikh. I knew him as the latter.

Twenty-two years ago, we had come out of this mosque together after visiting the shrine of Sheikh Muhyiddin, and I watched for a moment as he stopped to buy some apples from a cart in front of the mosque. He took the plastic bag from the seller and filled it with the worst apples he could find nicked, bruised, and worm-holed which he chose as carefully as most people choose good ones, then paid for and with a smile shook hands with the man before we went up the hill to the sheikh s home. Small and lithe, he had a light complexion, penetrating eyes, aquiline features with expressive lips, and a trimmed mustache and full beard. He dressed elegantly, wearing a few turns of white and gold cloth around a red fez on his head, a knee- length suit and vest over a shirt without a tie, and trousers tapering to the ankles. As we climbed higher and higher, I wanted to carry the bag, but he wouldn t let me, saying that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had said, The one who needs a thing is the one who should carry it. When I reflected on his strange shopping, I realized that it had been to save the apple man from having to throw any out. The incident summed up the sheikh s personality and life, which was based on futuwwa or putting others ahead of oneself.

Many who knew him regarded him as a wali or friend of Allah, and surely his long decades of service to others had much to do with it. His wife bore him five sons and five daughters, and he was preceded to the afterlife by her and a son. Originally a weaver by trade, he had been instrumental in unionizing workers in the present c entury in Damascus, and served on the committee that led the Syrian Textile Workers Union in a successful forty-day strike for workmen s compensation. He had represented Syria in the United Arab Workers Union, and led an active public life. Earlier this year in the month of Rabi I, he had received recognition at the Burda [Prophetic Mantle] annual poetry awards given by the United Arab Emirates for outstanding service to the Umma of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). With the apples and everything else he did, he was always teaching students the inner sunnas of the character and states of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), to whom he referred everything. I am just a parrot, he told us.

I once came to Damascus to complain about one of the brethren in Jordan, and after checking into a hotel, went to the tiny room and bookshop of Sheikh Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi off the courtyard of the Darwishiyya Mosque. Sheikh Abd al-Rahman would drop in after the noon prayer each day to visit with his friends, and I found him there and gave my Salams, but before I could say anything, he said, How is your ego getting along with So-and-so? mentioning the person by name. I was abashed for a moment, then said, Praise be to Allah. The sheikh replied, Praise be to Allah, then talked about the importance of being with true and honest people, and avoiding those who spoke badly of others. Despite such incidents, the sheikh would say, The person of the sheikh is a veil, and never drew attention to himself, but to Allah and to the sunna of His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). He stressed learning the traditional sciences, and would not permit disciples ignorance of fiqh or aqida. He never went to school, because as an orphan brought from Homs to Damascus by his older brother, he had to earn his keep by running errands, and taught himself how to read and write by looking at the signs above the shops whose owners names he knew. When he later got a job as a weaver, he used to sing his own rustic religious compositions to popular tunes, keeping time to the loom he worked at. A fellow worker heard him, and told him that he should study Classic al Arabic. What is Classical Arabic? he asked, and the man took him to Sheikh Husni al-Baghghal, who educated him in Shafi i fiqh and Arabic grammar. He studied these and other traditional subjects with sheikhs of the time such as Muhammad Barakat, Ali al-Daqar, Isma il al-Tibi, and Lutfi al-Hanafi.

Sheikh Abd al-Rahman told us that when Husni al-Baghghal caught tuberculosis, before the era of antibiotics, he was put in quarantine, which his student defied by visiting him. His teacher told him he was risking his life, and in reply, seeing that the sheikh had a candy in his mouth, Abd al-Rahman asked if he could see it for a moment. The sheikh gave it to him, and the young man popped it into his own mouth, telling him that according to tenets of faith ( ilm al-tawhid), causes do not bring about effects by themselves, but only by Allah s will. The illness proved terminal to the sheikh, but Sheikh Abd al-Rahman survived.

His long association with sheikhs of learning bequeathed him a lifelong respect for Islamic knowledge and a habit of making sure before answering any question about religion. What the Imams have recorded is our religion, he used to say, and when I once asked him what dhikrs one should recite after the prescribed prayer, though he had prayed all his life and was over seventy at the time, instead of answering he reached to his bookshelf, found Imam Nawawi s Kitab al-adhkar, and read several sahih hadiths from it. Throughout the 1980s, whenever I would ask him about a hadith or verse of the Qur an, he would always reach for a reference work and in his patient way open it up and find something about it. Though he knew many of the answers, I had to be taught to use references, so he taught me. This became apparent in later years, when he came to answer me more freely from his own learning.

Imam Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, whose order the sheikh belonged to, would not let his disciples beg, but had them earn their own livelihood, and Sheikh Abd al-Rahman also emphasized the importance of having a trade to earn one s living by the work of one s hands. He used to say, I hope to pass on from this world without having taken a single piaster from anyone: I don t even take from my children.

Born in Homs in 1910, he came to Damascus at three, and worked first as a stableboy, then as an errand boy, then as a weaver, then as a foreman, then as a supervisor of textile mills. When the textile industry was nationalized under socialism, he was but two years away from retiring and receiving his pension, and was now asked to head the industry. He told the government that nationalization is theft, and he would have nothing to do with it, for which he was fired and forfeited his pension. He later found a position as a teacher of tenets of faith at a religious academy, where he taught until he was over eighty years of age and could no longer walk to work.

While still in his twenties, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman took the Shadhili path from Sheikh Muhammad al-Hashimi, the representative in Damascus of Sheikh Ahmad al- Alawi of Mostaganem, Algeria. He remembered meeting Sheikh al- Alawi in 1932 on his visit to Damascus after the hajj. Sheikh al- Alawi had sat in the Shamiyya Mosque after sunset to give a lesson, and the young weaver had looked askance at the sheikh s socks, which were French, not of the plain-spun local manufacture. Sheikh Abd al-Rahman told us: I said: Look at those socks. This man is supposed to be a sheikh? Then he began to speak on the aphorism of Sidi Ibn Ata Illah:

Do not leave the invocation of Allah (dhikr) because of your lack of presence with Allah therein, for your heedlessness of invocation is worse than your heedlessness in invocation. It may well be that He raises you from invocation with heedlessness to invocation with attentiveness, and from invocation with attentiveness to invocation with presence of heart, and from invocation with presence of heart to invocation in which there is absence from anything besides the Invoked, and that is not difficult for Allah [Qur an 14:20].

His commentary was something else. When he finished and the nightfall prayer ( isha) came, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman smiled as he remembered, I said to myself, This sheikh can wear any kind of socks he likes.

In subsequent years, until Sheikh al-Hashimi s death in 1961, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman became the head munshid or singer of mystic odes, at the hadra or public dhikr the sama or audition advocated by Junayd and his circle as well as the modern Shadhili tariqa. Sheikh al-Hashimi also authorized him to give the general litany (wird al- amm) of the tariqa to others. Although later in the sixties the brethren urged Sheikh Abd al-Rahman to teach them, and he had been authorized at the time by both Sheikh Muhammad Sa id al-Hamzawi of Syria and Sheikh Ali al- Budlaymi of Algeria, he did not use either authorization to teach, until Sheikh Muhammad Sa id al-Kurdi of Jordan whom Sheikh Abd al-Rahman had introduced to Sheikh al-Hashimi in the 1930s and been his fellow disciple with made him his authorized successor.

Sheikh Abd al-Rahman's teaching in Sufism, like that of Dhul Nun al-Misri, Shadhili, Ibn al- Arabi, Darqawi, and others, was based on the Oneness of Being, realized experientially by the salik or mystic traveler. Oneness of Being meant the being of Allah, and was never confused or identified with the physical, contingent being of created things. Physical things, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman would say, never even catch the scent of true Being. Rather, Allah is One, without any partner in His transcendent perfection, without any associate in His entity, attributes, rulings, or actions; while the entire world is merely His action, as the Qur an says, This is the creating of Allah, so show me what those besides Him have created (Qur an 31:11). For Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, the world was pure act, while Allah was pure being, and the two were completely distinct, though the world depended solely and entirely upon its Maker, whom it revealed as His action. This was his conception of the Oneness of Being. And the spiritual way, as he put it, was that knowledge become vision.

When asked a question about Sufism, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman would often close his eyes, rock back for a moment, and say Allah, drawing out the last syllable at length, then open his eyes and begin the answer. In a way, it summarized his whole life: teaching the experiential knowledge of the Divine.

A spiritual path that does not bring one to Allah, he would say, is a means without an end. His way of mudhakara or teaching Sufism was mainly by public lectures from classic works, semi-public sessions of singing poetry at people s homes, and private meetings with students who had taken his hand. I heard him teach from Ibn al- Arabi s al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani s Futuh al-ghayb, al-Siraj al-Tusi s al-Luma , Muhammad al-Buzaydi s al-Adab al-mardiyya, Ibn Ajiba s al-Mabahith al-asliya, Abul Mawahib al-Tunisi s Qawanin hikam al-ishraq, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi s Awarif al-ma arif, Abd al-Wahhab al- Sha rani s al-Yawaqit wa al-jawahir and his Lata if al-minan, Mustafa Naja s Sharh al-wadhifa, and other works. He had heard most of these from Sheikh al-Hashimi, and like his sheikh, would exposit them with the Qur an, hadith, Ibn Ata Illah s and other Sufi masters aphorisms, but most of all, as a poet and singer, with verses from the diwans of the great Arab masters of mystic poetry. He had memorized much from Ibn al-Farid, Abu Madyan, Ahmad al- Alawi, Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Yusuf al-Nabahani, Muhammad al-Harraq, Umar al-Yafi, Amin al-Jundi, Abd al-Qadir al-Himsi, and of course his own two-hundred-page volume of poetry al-Hada iq al-nadiyya fi al-nasamat al-ruhiyya (The dew-laden gardens: in the soft breezes of the spiritual), which he edited with his disciple Dr. Mahmud Masri and published in Aleppo in 1996.

His main lesson of the week took place after the dawn prayer in his own home high on the side of Mount Qasiyun above Damascus. He would begin with Ibn al- Arabi s al-Futuhat al- Makkiyya, which he read consecutively in this lesson for seventeen years. Then he would read from a work of Ash ari theology such as Sheikh al-Hashimi s Miftah al-janna, Ibrahim al- Bajuri s Hashiya on the Matn of Sanusi, or one of the other books which he finished from beginning to end over the years in this lesson. Then he would conclude with Kandahlawi s Hayat al-Sahaba to emphasize that a true Sufi must gauge his spiritual path by those educated by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), the prophetic Companions.

His scrupulousness (wara ) resembled that of the early Muslims; his personal practice of Islam was strictness for himself and leniency for others. When told that the soap he had used might have been derived from something ritually impure, he immediately took a shower and changed his clothes. He knew that Hanafis considered the chemical transformation of soap manufacture to purify unclean animal products, but he was a Shafi i, and he adhered to his own school in all matters of taqwa. In 1988 I went with him and three others by car from Medina to Mecca on an umra or lesser pilgrimage, and from the moment we entered the Sacred Mosque until we left to Jedda, the sheikh would not lift his eyes more than two meters ahead of his feet, out of awe for the place, in which even the sins of the eyes are greater than anywhere else. In the last year of his life, I saw him refuse to use cologne he had been told was ritually pure, waving it away impatiently because of the probable alcohol content in it, and forming with his lips, which could no longer speak, the words How do you know?

His daily wirds, besides the Qur an, and the sunna dhikrs that Muslims say throughout the day, were four: the wird al- amm or general litany of the tariqa; Abul Hasan al-Shadhili s Hizb al- Bahr; the Wadhifa or Abul Mawahib al-Tunisi s and Dhafir al-Madani s interlineal prayer upon Ibn Mashish s famous Blessing on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); and the wird al-khass, or Supreme Name Allah, which he recited at night.

He was at his greatest as a spiritual guide, perhaps, in the khalwa or spiritual retreat, into which he initiated a number of those who took the path. He would impart the Supreme Name to the disciple, and then by degrees bring him to a point of the dhikr at which he would pour his own yaqin or certitude into the heart of the disciple in a way not easy to describe, bringing him to a realization of the transcendent Oneness of the Divine. Disciples varied in their level of spiritual aspiration, purity of heart, intention towards the sheikh, and taqwa, and consequently in their degree of attainment, and the sheikh would follow up with them in the years afterwards by precept, example, and readings from classical works, so that they could continue to progress by measuring themselves against suitably high standards, the prophets (upon whom be peace), the Sahaba, and the great awliya of the past.

He never stopped teaching. He once entered the head office of a small religious academy in Damascus with a group of his students and sat down to talk to the director, who bade him wait until he finished some things that appeared somewhat urgent. One thing seemed to lead to the next, and phone calls came one after another. Sheikh Abd al-Rahman waited patiently, while his disciples, as the minutes drew on, grew less and less so. Finally, after a quarter of an hour, the principle of the school set aside his work, looked up at the sheikh, and apologized with a smile, putting himself at the sheikh s service. The sheikh thanked him, asked him how he was, and then said, I just wanted to make a phone call. After a short call, he got up, thanking the principal profusely, and left with his disciples. They had needed a lesson in patience and manners, and the sheikh had given them one.

But such moments were the exception, and he tended to have a light hand with students. He used to say, Everyone takes after his own name, and the meaning of Abd al-Rahman, Servant of the All-Merciful, was part of the way he taught and was. He took disciples as they were, and saw how he could improve them. His criticism was generally allusive and indirect, and I would often be well down the street after a visit before I realized that he had intended me by his comments. In olden days, he once explained, smoothing his trouser leg, disciples used to smooth the clothes of the sheikh. But in ours, the sheikh has to smooth the clothes of the disciple.

I remember him being asked, on one of his teaching visits to Jordan, about long hours of dhikr for disciples after they had entered the khalwa and were free to invoke the Supreme Name as long as they wished, something not allowed to those who have not entered it. Long hours of dhikr? the sheikh had wondered. No, it is sufficient to just invoke the Name for five minutes, or ten minutes, before going to bed. After the singing and stories, and the questions and answers, the brethren finally went to sleep on the pallets spread around the floor, and the sheikh repaired to his room, where he invoked the Supreme Name through the night. It was his way to tax himself, and make things easy for others.

Although always kind and warm, in earlier years he would sometimes express his concern for disciples with a firm yes or no. When I once asked him on behalf of a disciple from Jordan for permission to add a room onto a house, the sheikh said, Tell him that if it is necessary for his family or guests, he may go ahead. But if it is only to glut a desire, then no. He mostly advised however by hint and suggestion, and I recall that when some disciples ignored his advice and did what they wanted instead, he merely said, Had Allah known any good in them, He would have made them listen (Qur an 8:23).

In later years he became more absorbed in the divine beauty (jamal) and acquiesc ent to others. We were once driving across town in Damascus together during election week, and I was reading the hand-lettered cloth campaign banners that stretched across the street and filled the sky. The tenure ofSyria s president had been marked by a series of landslide victories at the polls, and he had now been nominated for yet another term. The sheikh put his face near the windshield, looked up at the banners, and commented, A feast for calligraphers! He only saw the good.

He authorized a number of sheikhs to give instruction in the path. It is related that he wrote out such an ijaza or authorization and carried it to one of the cities of the north to give to a sheikh there, but when he discussed Ibn al- Arabi with him, realized that he was not of the same opinion about him as himself, and because he felt this was important, returned to Damascus without giving it to him. He likewise gave an authorization that he later revoked because he found the recipient s character wanting. When asked about the reality of the ijaza, he once said, It is a means for its possessor to defeat his devil. And when asked why sometimes even an authorized sheikh may go bad, he said, It happens to someone who did not keep the company of his sheikh long enough to absorb his state. In short, he considered the ijaza a necessary condition to be a sheikh, but not a sufficient one.

For these reasons he was very conservative about authorizing sheikhs in the tariqa saying that whoever asked for it would be plagued by Allah with it until after a series of strokes and a coma of fifty-five days in January and February of 1999. He returned to consciousness extremely weakened, and afterwards was much less stringent, perhaps because he considered Sufism to be the third great pillar of the din, and wanted as many people as possible to teach it in whatever capacity they could. Only a few of those he authorized originally took him as their sheikh, kept his company in his active years, entered his khalwa, and attended his readings to the brethren before he stopped for health reasons in 1996; while most were previously trained or authorized by other sheikhs or only kept his company in his final years after his illness. Sheikh Abd al- Rahman used to caution in his lifetime, The path is rare, and Allah knows best the sheikh s true inheritors, in path, in godfearingness, and in absorption in the Divine; though Sheikh al- Alawi has written in the first of his diwan: After the sheikh's death there appears another like him; That is the way of Allah which never changes.

On Friday 11 June 2004 the Damascus brethren of Sheikh Abd al-Rahman put their hands in the hand of Sheikh Mustafa al-Turkmani at the Nuriyya Mosque as their head. The sheikh s main legacy however does not lie in the polity he left behind, but in his reviving the spirit of the tariqa with the Qur an and sunna and pure experiential knowledge of the Divine. A spokesman for the Syrian Ministry of Religious Endowments said at his funeral that he was the renewer of the Sufi tariqas in the Levant and an inspiration to those of the larger Islamic World, renewing the tariqas according to the exacting standards of the Qur an and sunna. The thousands who followed and benefited from the sheikh certainly concurred with this, for he had filled their lives with din and hearts with yaqin. May Allah bless the Umma with the knowledge he taught, and be well pleased with His servant Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri. And praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Full Moon Has Risen

The full moon has risen Transmitted from the Ansar of Madina
Al-Bara ibn Azib (a Companion) narrated that: [..] “I had never seen the people of Madina so joyful as they were on the arrival of Allah’s Apostle, for even the slave girls were saying, ‘Allah’s Apostle has arrived!’”[..] (Sahih Bukhari, volume 5, Book 58, Number 262)

The full moon has risen over us
From the mountains of al-Wada`.
We shall ever give thanks for it
As long as there will be callers to Allah.
O you who was sent to us
You came with a command to be obeyd
You came to give honor to our city
Welcome o best of callers!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You by Pablo Neruda

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.

I love you only because it's you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems by Oscar Wilde

To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems by Oscar Wilde
I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.

For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.

And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.

Television By Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

This is a beautiful poem that was written by the late Roald Dahl which, while being witty, succinctly captures the wisdom of keeping children away from the insidious effects of TV. Please take some time out of your busy schedules to read this poem and reflect on its contents.


By Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

Robert Fisk Figures Out What Middle Easterners Want

In The Sprit of Tradition- Sidi Nazim Baksh

"Tradition" in academic circles has come to signify old fashioned customs, archaic cultural practices, ossified ideas handed down from the past and articulated to the letter by naïve, simple minded neo-Luddites. In popular discourse, to be traditional is to adamantly cling in the past. Those espousing traditional values are often lumped into the same category as the tree-huggers and angry protesters hurling insults at the towers of free-trade, liberalization and globalization and in the process braving the batons and pepper-spray of heavily armed policemen.

From this perspective, tradition is not only diametrically opposed to modernity; it represents a distinct historical period from which modernity saved the world by liberating itself from the shackles of tradition. Thus, anyone who consciously clings to the profound and perennial "Truths" or "Virtues" if you wish, embodied in all sacred traditions, is regarded as "backward looking," anti-progress or worst, hopeless romantics.

In "Arguing Sainthood: Modernity, Psychoanalysis and Islam," Katherine Pratt Ewing eloquently explains and historically illustrates that what has come to be regarded as "traditional" was never static nor monolithic, but was instead varied and constantly evolving over time. The accusation of rigidity was hurled at tradition, she argues, by the architects of colonization in order to establish the colonizer's hegemony over the colonized. Ultimately, in order for the colonizer to succeed in his colonization, the modern had to be cast as superior to the existing order. And thus the only reason why civilizations of old were destroyed, the argument goes, was because they failed to develop, progress, and to change. In other words, leave the old and dilapidated and get with the new program.

Unfortunately, many Muslims today have swallowed the false discursive assumption that tradition is something static. Therefore, in order to move forward, they have to tear themselves away from the past and embrace the modern, and by extension, the post-modern, with all its technological gadgetry, and its shifting house of virtues and ethics.

The consequence of this charge has produced some rather abnormal collective behavioral traits among us. We find in the murky water of contemporary Muslim reality those who feel the need to label themselves: modernists, progressives, reformists, fundamentalists; and even when there is absolutely no need for other categories, they nevertheless continue to pile up.

At this particular juncture, when young Muslims in the west are feeling a burning desire to understand and perhaps also experience something of the intellectual, spiritual, ethical and virtuous ambiance of earlier generations, it is important to clarify what we mean by the term "traditional."

According to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, executive director of Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, CA, traditional Islam is the "plumb line", the trunk of the Islamic tree, if you prefer, whose roots are firmly buried in the soil of Prophethood.

Over time, tributaries sprout from the "plumb line" and eventually die out, but the line continues because ours is a tradition based on isnad - sound, authentic, reliable transmission of sacred knowledge.

Young Muslims in the West, I believe, are responding positively to the call of "tradition" because they are a tad fed up with the many tributaries that have fractured from the "plumb line." They want to experience an Islam free of ideology, statist or otherwise, an Islam free of political affiliations, organizational goals, and market driven visions hatched in lofty towers by engineers and doctors.

Therefore, by "tradition" we mean the "Sunnah" of our Noble Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, in all its timeless,

living and sacred glory. The Sunnah here is the worldly manifestation of the divine revelation which has been codified and preserved in the sacred text of Al-Qur'an.

To follow this sacred tradition means to stake all claims, whatever they are, in the two sources of Truth: The Qur'an and the Sunnah. In our Ummah, no one, regardless of what category he puts himself in, will argue to the contrary. Some may choose to stress only the intellectual, cultural, social, or spiritual aspects of the Islamic tradition instead of treating the tradition as an integrated whole. Regardless of what is given priority, it must be based on the explicit "Truths" evident in the Qur'an and the Sunnah for it to be regarded as within the parameters of the Islamic tradition.

This tradition is the whole of Islam (al-din) and whenever an attempt is made to compartmentalize or divide it up into edible portions, for whatever reasons, that effort will never survive the test of time. Having said that, we should recognize that those who emphasize one aspect of the tradition may be doing it out of a need and not an attempt to split the tradition into parts.

In order for speak of a sacred tradition there must be a model that serves as its reference point. We therefore recognize that the community of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was established with divine guidance as a model, and at no time in history will there ever be another community like it. Further, the Islamic sacred tradition has been from its inception a living tradition and rigorously documented as such.

In order for the tradition to remain valid it has to be transmitted in a way that will stand the test of time. A sacred tradition cannot survive without transmission and the key to transmission is isnad, or sound and verifiable links that stitches each generation of believers to the preceding one all the way back to the Blessed Messenger.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, has often said that "isnad" is the secret of this Ummah and a gift from Allah. Without "isnad" the entire tradition could very well collapse. The system of ijaza (teaching licenses) is intricately linked to isnad in that one takes his knowledge from noble men and women who took their knowledge from those who took their knowledge from those..all the way back to that model community and to the blessed Messenger himself, whose knowledge, without a shadow of doubt, came from the Lord of the Divine Throne through his messenger, the angel Gibril, upon him be peace.

There is a tested and established tradition aimed at preserving and transmitting sacred knowledge within the overall tradition of Islam. We recognize its validity and importance today especially when the "sacred" has been relegated to an inferior position in our modern educational system. Zaytuna Institute in California, and a host of other well-established organizations in the U.S.A., Canada and the UK, have dedicated themselves to preserving and re-establishing the traditional educational method of teaching the Islamic sacred sciences to the present generation of Muslims in the West.

The fact that the tradition must be transmitted to remain valid, necessarily entails that it cannot be static because time does not stand still and the world is certainly not one big snapshot. The established Truths of the Islamic tradition will always confront and must reconcile itself to new situations, events and circumstances.

A lot of the divisions and acrimony we find in our communities today is as a direct result over a problem in determining exactly what is an "authentic" tradition.

In "Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought" Daniel Brown points out: ".it is also evident that tradition is frequently appealed to as a way of defending against perceived innovation, as a way of preserving threatened values. Alternative uses of tradition are thus a major battleground; there is fierce competition to control the process by which the content of tradition is defined, and for modern Muslims, sunna has become the bitterest point of conflict. Thus, the modern problem of sunna arises out of conflict among Muslims over the definition and content of the authentic tradition, and over the method by which the tradition is to be defined." (page 3)

The only way to effectively deal with the thorny issue of what constitutes an authentic application of our tradition is to recognize that the mujatahid Imams, and by extension the `ulama who follow in their methodological footprints, are the final arbiters. This applies to fiqh as well as to the other branches of the Islamic sacred sciences.

Differences of opinions and interpretations in our sacred tradition is not a sign of weakness in the tradition, but instead, they attest to its richness and complexity.

When we live according to the Sunnah today we are preserving our tradition and ensuring its continuity and validity in time by handing it down to the next generation in much the same way as it was given to us by the pervious. The point here is that we act upon the tradition, not impose our modern sensibilities upon it, in the hope that the divine barakah may trickle down on us.

Finally, we are aware that the Islamic tradition, handed down to us over the years, is our link to the historic Prophetic community. By living it we are confirming that the way of our noble Messenger is as valid today as it was when Allah The Almighty sent him as a Mercy to all of mankind 1400 years ago.

This is what we mean by "tradition" and so when reference is made to the work we do as being "traditional," it is not an attempt to label, but to identify a focus that's broad enough to include all Muslims.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in his "Traditional Islam in the Modern World" offers the following comprehensive definition of tradition and one that I think works well as a summary:

"Tradition is at once al-din in the vastest sense of the word, which embraces all aspects of religion and its ramifications, al-sunnah, or that which, based upon sacred models, has become tradition as this word is usually understood, and al-silsilah, or the chain which relates each period, episode or stage of life and thought in the traditional world to the Origin..Tradition, therefore, is like a tree, the roots of which are sunk through revelation in the Divine Nature and from which the trunk and branches have grown over the ages. At the heart of the tree of tradition resides religion, and its sap consists of that grace or barakah which, originating with the revelation, makes possible the continuity of the life of the tree. Tradition implies the sacred, the eternal, the immutable Truth; the perennial wisdom, as well as the continuous application of its immutable principles to various conditions of space and time." (page 13).

(By Nazim Baksh. Nazim is a television journalist at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada. Over the last five years he has been involved in organizing Deen Intensives, Rihlas and other traditional programs in North America).

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

March 23, 1775
By Patrick Henry

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at the truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the numbers of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received?

Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlement assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation.

There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us! They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength but irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!